Mary Ansell, Happy Houses (1912)
Mary Ansell (1868-1950) published three books in her lifetime: The Happy Garden and Happy Houses, both in 1912; and Dogs and Men in 1924. The former two were written three years after she had left her writer-husband, J.M. Barrie, for Gilbert Cannan, an up-and-coming novelist fifteen years her junior. The adventure was not, in the end, a happy one: Gilbert left her in 1916 for nineteen year-old Gwen Wilson, and she was granted a judicial separation in 1918. But 1912 found Ansell in the midst of beginning the world anew, and her publications of this year express this sense of self-regeneration.
The Happy Garden and Happy Houses are repetitive and (to the critically minded) self-indulgent, yet there is much in them to interest and engage. The former is a tour of her garden at Black Lake Cottage in Surrey, given to a fictional friend who she advises on how best to appoint a country garden. The latter extends this advice to home decoration, and introduces a fuller background of fictional characters and episodes: so much so that the book approached the condition of a novel. Continue reading